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Drones and Bananas nudge wayward elephants back to their home base in China

Aerial image of the elephants sleeping in the fields (Pic Courtesy Japan Times)

Following a trek of 1,300 kilometres by a herd of elephants, China is now urging these animals to proceed to their protected habitat located in southwest Yunnan province. For this purpose, both modern and traditional means are being employed, that is drones and bananas!

According to a report in wionews.com, briefing the media on this, the wildlife protection officials informed that the elephants had safely crossed a bridge over the Yuan River and were heading south. This will lead them to the nature reserve which is administered by Puer city.

This herd of elephants had left its home located in the far south near the Laos border nearly 16 months ago and undertook what can be described as a grand tour. This journey crossed farmlands which had plenty of corn, sugarcane, bananas and dragon fruit in the southeastern Yunnan province.

While the public loved their antics of sauntering around on the streets and roads and sleeping in fields, the media starred them as loveable creatures. Yet, there was danger since weighing four tons coupled with the ability to burst into fast runs, they could pose danger to people.

Also read: Naughty 'Mountain' elephant moved to a new home!

Thus, an emergency committee was set up to handle these creatures and they used varied methods to guide them to take the correct route. These included electric fences, laying of corn trees as bait, and building artificial roads – all to ensure they take the correct route.

A huge taskforce was also deployed by Yunnan which included more than 25,000 police and staff and 1,500 emergency vehicles. According to Wan Yong, the Head of the Provincial Forestry Commission, all this was necessary to keep a track of the elephants and to feed them and ensure public safety.

Besides, people numbering more than 150,000 were evacuated along this migration route and more than 5 million yuan ($771,000) in insurance money was given to cover property damage, added Yong.

Wildlife experts are flummoxed as to why the elephants started this trek? Among the possible explanations offered is the increased competition for scarce resources due an increase in elephant number. According to Chen Mingyong, a Yunnan University elephant-behaviour expert attached to the task force, change in their habitat due to climate change may also be a cause.

Also read: Elephants in Agra shelter beat the heat in swimming pools

He added that fluctuations in the earth's electromagnetic field may have rendered the elephants’ finely-tuned navigational sense go haywire or they simply took the wrong turn unknowingly.

What has further stumped researchers is why these veteran navigators going straight for Kunming went back south a couple months ago.

Elephant population in Xishuangbanna has become twice the number since 1978 as hunting has been banned. Further, natural habitats have reduced and broken down due to commercial farming, extensive urbanisation and creation of new transport infrastructure.